David Bernabo began writing Nearly-There, the second record from Pittsburgh-based collective Watererer, while he was in Japan last fall. His wife was there on business and he tagged along, spending his days exploring Osaka and Mishima, his nights working on music in his AirBnB.
As an unsurprising result, Nearly-There functions as a travelogue. “Thank you for being in English,” Bernabo sings, with a shade of apology, in the shimmery album opener, “Soft Marine Roar,” which recounts a confusing journey from point A to point B.
The tone of the track isn’t one of a stressed commuter; rather it captures the sense of surrender that sometimes comes with being truly out of your element. Musically, there’s an expansive, wandering openness, the strange loneliness of wandering through an unfamiliar place.
Amorphis progressive jazz track “Biking Osaka” is similarly evocative. The sparse lyrics stick to the literal — “Thanks to my wife, I’m struggling to keep up” — while the instrumentation builds out the scene, playfully approximating sounds of traffic and rushing wind, prompting visions of flashing lights and crowded streets.
Bernebo references Van Dyke Parks’ “gnarled arrangements” and Stan Kenton’s big band orchestration as inspiration, and certain moments of orchestral grandeur bring to mind a noise pop Rodgers and Hammerstein (see: “Proof Through the Night”). The loose, amiably indie rock elements, plus Bernabo’s papery vocals recall Yo La Tengo.
There’s quite a show of musicianship here, too: the lineup includes PJ Roduta on percussion, cellist Nadine Sherman, Jeff Berman (vibraphone), Matt Aelmore (bass, trumpet, french horn), Renee Copeland (tamburello), Patrick Breiner (tenor sax, clarinet). Bernabo plays guitar, pedal steel, wurlitzer, synths, and water percussion.
Back at home, Bernabo finished writing the record (the surprisingly rollicking slowburn rock/funk track “Three or Four Days in a South Texas Spring” is an amusing shift in scenery, though not a jarring one).
“With no real responsibility there’s an openness to the creative process,” Bernabo writes in the press material. Anecdotal evidence says that’s truer on vacation than in, say, pseudo-lockdown. But Nearly-There is a welcome escape from the same four walls. Earnest listening and exploration (both geographically and musically) and makes for a lovely audio postcard.